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111| Eisel

David B. Goldstein

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Nature provides us, if we are lucky, with three things:
birth, the permission
to become public, a sinew or two
for working the land and heart.

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Leaving for the Big Rock Candy Mountain
the old man took nothing but a tiny vial of eisel hidden in his cloak.

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Floridus Macer tells us a plaster of chervil
tempered with eisel
“putteth awaye the chylle from all woundes.”

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Americans consume 156 pounds of sugar per year. Imagine it:
        Early morning.      Snowfall.
        Our boots break through the crystalline crust
of the silent world. The white stimulant. Its sweet beauty.

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Eisel: from acetillum, little vinegar.
                        [Obsolete.]
        Is eisel vinegar, or another sour liquid?
        A potion to ward off plague or a sauce to season meat?
        Scholars are divided,
        mill about, lost.

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With eisel the eye sees more sharply and the mouth comes alive. But it will cost you.

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Regimen Sanitatis Salerni (1528): “sommer sauce shulde be verieuse, eysell, or vineger.”

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Verieuse. Verjus. The verge.

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Someone offered Jesus a sponge soaked in eisel on the cross.
So the world’s small cruelties congeal.
The thief next to him - did he receive even that sponge?

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To make wine vinegar: take the sweet grapes of the vine and crush them.
Ferment past sweetness, past intoxication, past verjus, past the fullness of time.
At the turn of the thin, wizened trickle, bottle it.

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Vinegar is the chiding of sweetness, that overstimulated child.

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To help ring bone in a horse’s hoof, says Thomas Grymes, “take eisel, armement, & a quantitie of verdgris, boile them in a little swine’s greece, rub this well, and often, in the disease.”

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To test the balsamic, I poured a spoonful and tasted the violet potion.
My nostrils instantly felt scored; vapors rose toward the brain.
The vinegar was too young to know
of anything but pain.

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Sweetness is the spoon, vinegar the knife.

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I plunged my hand into a bowl of ink as into a dye.
I drew out my hand and the ink dripped onto the book.
The sponge of the book absorbed all the ink but a single dot.
The book was called the Book of Pity, and it was my cure.

*

The bone grows and rings the joint, a gathering arthritis. The horse moves like an old creature, its hoof breaking up the frosted ground.

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“Woo’t drink up eisel, eat a crocadile?” asked Hamlet. For that is the taste of loss: vinegar, a scaly hide, a ring of teeth, and you standing upright in another’s grave.

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After the bones had been cleared away and the pies and cakes reduced to crumbs, the golden and rubied wines drunk, the odorous cheeses cut from their rinds and dispatched, we sat together, our nature subdued to what it works in: words, the touch of palm on arm, the reaching out.

David B. Goldstein is the author of the poetry collection Laws of Rest (BookThug 2013) and a work of literary criticism, Eating and Ethics in Shakespeare’s England (Cambridge UP 2013). He writes frequently on matters related to Shakespeare, early modern culture, and food studies, and his poetry and translations have been published in journals and anthologies across North America. David lives in Toronto with his wife, artist Mindy Stricke, and their two children. He is Associate Professor of English at York University.

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